Database Finance: Online brokers ask, "Are you aware?"

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Anyone skeptical about whether marketers are using the Internet as an awareness medium should take a close look at the online advertising motives of Internet brokerages, which are one of the biggest spending categories online. With advertisers such as Datek Online and Fidelity Investments ranking among the top 25 advertisers on the Internet, it would be logical to assume that click-through rates, enticing new subscribers to trade their dwindling portfolios online, would be one of the paramount objectives in advertising these brands online.

But the data tell a different story.

According to Jupiter Media Metrix's AdRelevance, personal finance advertisers were much more concerned with creating awareness for their brands online in April 2001 than they were with any other objective. All told, the category served 1.2 billion ads aimed at good old analog awareness, a metric that hearkens back to a simpler time.

The situation fits-sort of-with the trend in the category valuing customer retention over acquisition (AA, April 16). Banners in the category these days often take a subtle approach, sometimes featuring no more than a logo and a suggestion to "click here," as if after spending all those millions on offline campaigns, they now simply wanted to remind their target that their virtual trading floors still exist. The usage of the Net to generate awareness could also be tied to the marketing budget cuts that now rage rampant in the sector. Ameritrade, as one example, which placed two of the top five banners in the category in April, slashed its advertising budget for the year from $200 million to $140 million. Certainly, an advertiser that knows how to find its market online can build awareness most cheaply by targeting.

Not that anyone in the category would shy away from a few new accounts. AdRelevance estimates that advertisers used up 813 million impressions on driving sales for their companies, and another 360 million on the objective of upping traffic.

Good to know they're not leaving everything to Alan Greenspan.

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